From £27,500
Lotus has returned the Elise to its origin with a sharply-priced entry-level model. David Vivian finds it provides the most thrills of the range.

What's new?When the baby Lotus moved to Toyota power, the entry level position in the range was left vacant. Now it is filled by this, a new £24k base model with the 1.8-litre 134bhp VVT engine from the Toyota Corolla.The idea isn't just to take the fight to the prestige brands (smaller-engined BMW Z4s and Audi TTs), but to tempt customers from the 'affordable roadster' ranks. Could be the new MX-5's worst nightmare.What's it like? After all the Boxster-chasing evolution, honing and performance massaging of recent years, almost the original Elise reborn. While far from a stripped-down special - apart from the engine and gearbox the S has the same basic spec as the old 111R (now re-named R and given the Touring Pack as standard) - there's a purity and simplicity to the S that's utterly beguiling.Despite its unpromising-sounding origins, the new Toyota 1.8 VVT works brilliantly, feeling far more flexible and punchy than the more powerful, higher-revving unit in the R (even though the power and torque curves say it sould feel identical up to 6500rpm). The peak of 134bhp may not sound much, but remember the Elise weighs just 860kg. The claimed 0-60mph time of 5.8sec makes every other price rival look pedestrian.Although the new engine is slightly lighter, the chassis settings are the same as for the R, which means sublime steering and agility, masses of grip and the kind of body control that makes most other cars feel plain clumsy. Downsides? You don't feel inclined to listen to the rather good standard Alpine stereo. And while the poles and fabric hood isn't as easy as an MX-5's, it is simple once you're used to it..Should I buy one? What's stopping you? It's not hard to make a case for the S being the best Elise of all. It may not have the top-end wallop of the R but its more linear delivery makes it more driveable and, arguably, more fun. And if you fancy more creature comforts, there's always the Touring Pack. Seems less really is more. But then Lotus has always known that.David Vivian

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